In changing school attendance zones, the school system has been following a rational process establishing guiding principles of balance, efficiency, planning and community, which raised few objections.
However, once the principles were applied to drawing zones, then the complaints began.
I am not talking about technical comments like redistricting’s impact on bus routes. Rather, what I am referring to are the attacks based on who has to go to schools with a majority of minority students.
Except that is never how the opponents refer to their objections. They cloak their objections in more neutral-sounding points like predicting that their property values will go down if their kids have to attend a different school. Or the objections are to sending their children to a lower-ranking school.
This point came up in one of the redistricting meetings. A gentleman commented that his child would have to go to a lower-ranking school. I remarked that that ranking was simply a reflection of the demographics of the population attending that school, which currently has a high percentage of low-income students. He responded that, based on his own upbringing, he did not believe that socioeconomic factors had an impact on test scores.
His point seemed to fall into the old “nature versus nurture” debate: What has the bigger impact, your inherent nature or the environment in which you were nurtured?
Let’s follow this line of thinking that the socioeconomic factors do not impact educational attainment. What other parts of nurturing are there that would impact education? The physical environment is one, though it would be hard to argue that new elementary schools will be a detriment.
Besides the actual building in which education takes place, the other big factor would be the staff and materials. So do people opposed to redistricting think that the teachers and books at the lower-ranking schools are somehow worse than at the other schools?
Unless you think that there is a vast conspiracy between the school board and the superintendent to send the worst teachers and materials to these schools, it is hard to believe that there are vast differences in the nurturing environment there.
All that is left is to point the finger at are the very nature of the students attending these schools, that they are inferior to the students that attend the higher graded schools.
Do redistricting opponents realize how profoundly insulting this is to those of us whose children have attended or will attend the schools in Aberdeen or Southern Pines, schools that have lower rankings than the schools in Pinehurst or West End?
The implication is that our children are not good enough to go to school with your kids, that somehow just by being in the same classes with our children that your children will fail to learn.
Well, my experience is that that is a bunch of hocum.
My son attended the schools in Southern Pines. He and his classmates received excellent educations that enabled them to have successful careers in a variety of professions. Among them are an Army major in special forces, a construction manager, a restaurant manager, a chef, a doctor, a banker, a deputy chief financial officer, and a nonprofit fundraiser.
So these are the kinds of kids you do not want your children going to school with?
In contrast, the Army major told me that attending a school with a diverse population was one of the strengths of going to school in Southern Pines. It better prepared him for life in the real world, where he has to interact with a wide array of people. And don’t we want our doctors and bankers to be able to work with a diversity of patients and customers? Or should they only be able to relate to people with similar educational backgrounds or social classes?
To suggest the latter simply defies logic, and defying logic is irrational. And I would contend that the irrationality here is the fear of “the other”: fear of those who are different from us, which is the horrible curse of the South.
Opposition to redistricting may be cloaked in terms of school rankings or failing schools or even improving failing schools prior to redistricting. But at its heart, it is the fear of “the other,” a fear that has infected the South for centuries.
The one encouraging thing about this process is that it gives us the opportunity to fight that fear and to try to forge a new path for the benefit of all children in Moore County.
Kyle Sonnenberg, who served as Southern Pines town manager from 1988 to 2004, has returned in retirement after a three-decade career in city management in three states.